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Spa Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday paddock notebook from Spa-Francorchamps…

Photo: MPS Agency

***The FIA World Endurance Championship published an updated version of the Total 6 Hours of Spa entry list this week. The latest edition takes out the withdrawn Team Project 1 No. 46 Porsche 911 RSR-19 and clears up the G-Drive Racing LMP2 trios.

***G-Drive’s lineup for its Spa outing is slightly different from the team’s European Le Mans Series squad. Pietro Fittipaldi, who is racing in IndyCar this weekend, normally drives the No. 25 Aurus 01 Gibson in ELMS but his place at Spa has been taken up by Roberto Merhi. The No. 26 trio of Nyck de Vries, Roman Rusinov and Franco Colapinto is unchanged from ELMS.

***Iron Lynx is evaluating its ‘Iron Dames’ crew for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, according to team co-founder Andrea Piccini. Katherine Legge recently joined the team’s WEC lineup but Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting, who effectively swapped out for Legge, are on the entry list. It’s understood that Frey, Gatting and Manuela Gostner are set to team up again, as was the original plan, but a final decision has yet to be made. “We will choose the ones who will be the fastest and most reliable at Le Mans,” said Piccini.

***Piccini added that Gatting is the most likely candidate to sub for Legge in the event that the British driver ends up missing the Portimao, Monza and Fuji WEC races that clash with her full-season IMSA GT Daytona drive with Team Hardpoint EBM. “It is already agreed that if she will need to go to America, she will be there, and then we will put Michelle into the WEC,” he said.

***Legge is making her first Spa appearance in 21 years. Her last race at the Belgian Grand Prix venue came in a round of the 2000 British Formula Ford season.

***Toyota’s Brendon Hartley suggested that the Hypercar team’s competition has dramatically increased since last season, in reference to the comparative pace of the LMP2 cars: “In theory, they were meant to be slowed down compared to last year, but it didn’t seem to be too much!” he said. “Let’s see in the race, but it’s almost like we have another 15 competitors for the weekend.”

***Eurasia Motorsport is assisting with the running of ARC Bratislava’s Ligier JS P217 Gibson. Eurasia is familiar with the Ligier LMP2, having run the package at Spa and Le Mans last year.

***Porsche’s Kevin Estre described Corvette Racing’s Prologue pace as “impressive” and expects the GM factory squad to bring a fight to the full-season WEC brands during its guest race appearance, despite being off the class pace during FP1. “Coming to Spa for the first time and on the first morning they were there, five-tenths off,” Estre told Sportscar365. “For sure they will be there.”

***Spa marks only the second time that Corvette Racing has turned laps in Europe outside Le Mans. The last instance occurred in 2009 when the team conducted a Michelin tire test at Misano, partly to support GT1 teams running in the FIA GT Championship. It also ran a Chevrolet Corvette C6.R with a larger diameter front tire, ahead of the product’s debut at Mid-Ohio later that year. DKR Engineering and PK Carsport are believed to have been involved in the test, while Oliver Gavin was one of the drivers.

***As announced on Thursday, Corvette great Gavin will retire from professional racing after Saturday’s race. His next venture, the Oliver Gavin Driving Academy, is now online.

***Porsche and Audi look set to conduct parallel testing programs for their LMDh cars, as part of a collaboration between the two Volkswagen Group brands. When asked if shared testing would be a part of the tie-up, Porsche’s head of factory motorsport Pascal Zurlinden said: “If you speak about synergy, this will be the easiest one to do.”

***Zurlinden also explained why the Porsche LMDh is due to roll out slightly sooner than its Audi counterpart, which is poised for a first-quarter 2022 track debut. “It’s parts availability, and we started the project much earlier,” he told Sportscar365. “We were already discussing concept phases in January last year at Daytona, when the regulations were published.”

***This weekend marks the first WEC race under new championship CEO Frederic Lequien, who succeeded Gerard Neveu at the start of the year. Neveu, who was recently appointed as the Motorsports Advisor at esports company Motorsport Games, was seen in the paddock on Thursday.

***Goodyear’s intermediate and wet LMP2 tires for the 2021 WEC are “completely new”, according to the supplier’s endurance racing program manager Mike McGregor. Goodyear has also introduced a new hard specification of its Eagle F1 SuperSport slick tire. “The construction package is completely new,” McGregor said. “The compound is from the first year that the cars were introduced.”

***The No. 46 Project 1 Porsche was withdrawn from the 6 Hours of Spa after its Prologue crash due to the absence of a spare car, according to Zurlinden. “It’s a timing thing,” he said. “They [Porsche’s team] had 24 hours to build a brand-new car to go racing.”

***Eurosport TV is bringing more than five hours of coverage of the race, with a one-hour recap of qualifying followed by the race live across the network’s British, European, Asian and Australasian platforms. 

***Mark Cole, Tom Gaymor and Damien Faulkner form the Eurosport English-language commentary team. Coverage starts at 11:15 a.m. BST on Saturday and will end after the podiums at 6:45 p.m. BST.

***With no spectators allowed on-site due to COVID-19 restrictions, the WEC has made the Total 6 Hours of Spa race program available online. Click here to view.

***Friday’s track action consists of two Free Practice sessions and two single-driver qualifying sessions lasting 10 minutes. FP2 starts at 9:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. EST) while FP3 is due to get underway at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EST). Qualifying kicks off at 6:20 p.m. (12:20 p.m. EST).

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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